12. An Escape From Prison
Glancing half round, as he turned away from the wine shop, Philip saw Raoul and two of his companions rising. He walked off in a leisurely manner and, a few paces farther, turned down a side street. He heard steps following him, and then a voice said:
"Hold, young sir. I would have a word with you."
Philip turned, with an expression of angry surprise.
"Are you addressing me, sir? I would have you know that am not accustomed to be spoken to, in that fashion; and that I bear an insult from no one."
"Are you equally particular, sir, when you are going about in peasant's clothes?"
"I am not good at riddles, sir," Philip said haughtily, "and can only suppose that your object is to pick a quarrel with me; though I am not conscious of having given you offence. However, that matters little. I suppose you are one of those gallants who air their bravery when they think they can do so, with impunity. On the present occasion you may, perchance, find that you are mistaken. I am a stranger here, and know of no place where this matter can be settled, nor am I provided with a second; but I am quite content to place myself in the hands of one of these gentlemen, if they will act for me."
"I am sure, Raoul, there is some mistake," Louis began, putting his hand on his cousin's shoulder.
But the other shook it off, angrily. He was of a passionate and overbearing temper, and Philip's coolness, and the manner in which he had turned the tables upon him and challenged him to a duel, inflamed him to the utmost.
"Hands off, Louis," he said. "Do you think that I, Raoul de Fontaine, am to be crowed over by this youth? He has challenged me to fight, and fight he shall."
"You provoked him," Louis said firmly. "You gave him provocation such as no gentleman of honour could suffer. It was not for this that I came out with you, but because you said that you wished to unravel what may be a plot."
"I will cut it, which will be easier than unravelling it," Raoul replied. "It is shorter and easier work, to finish the matter with a sword thrust, than to provide for his being swung at the end of a rope."
"We had best waste no time in empty braggadocio," Philip said coldly, "but proceed at once to some quiet spot, where this matter can be settled, undisturbed."
"I think the young gentleman is right," Monsieur D'Estanges, a gentleman of the court, said gravely. "The matter has gone too far for anything else, now; and I am bound to say that your adversary, of whose name I am ignorant, has borne himself in a manner to merit my esteem; and that, as your cousin will of course act for you, I shall be happy to place my services at his disposal."
"Let us get beyond the gates," Raoul said abruptly, turning on his heel, and retracing his steps up the lane to the main street.
"I thank you, sir, for offering to stand by one of whose very name you are ignorant," Philip said as, accompanied by Monsieur D'Estanges, he followed the others. "It is, however, right that you should know it. It is Philip Fletcher. On my father's side I am English, on my mother's I am of noble French blood, being cousin to Francois de Laville, whose mother and mine were daughters of the Count de Moulins."
"Two distinguished families of Poitou," Monsieur D'Estanges said, courteously. "It needed not that, to tell me that you were of good blood. I regret much that this encounter is going to take place. Monsieur Raoul de Fontaine was in the wrong, in so rudely hailing you, and I cannot blame you for taking it up sharply; although, seeing your age and his, and that he is a good swordsman, it might have been more prudent to have overlooked his manner.
"Unless, indeed," and he smiled, "Monsieur Raoul was right, and that you are engaged on some weighty matter here, and preferred to run the risk of getting yourself killed rather than have it inquired into. The Countess of Laville and her son are both staunch Huguenots, and you may well be on business here that you would not care to have investigated.
"You have not asked my name, sir. It is Charles D'Estanges. I am a cousin of the Duc de Guise, and am naturally of the court party; but I can esteem a brave enemy, and regret to see one engaged in an encounter in which he must needs be overmatched."
"I am a fair swordsman, sir," Philip said; "though my arm may lack somewhat of the strength it will have, a few years later. But had it been otherwise, I should have still taken the course I have. I do not say your conjecture is a correct one, but at any rate I would prefer the most unequal fight to being seized and questioned. One can but be killed once, and it were better that it should be by a thrust in the open air than a long imprisonment, ending perhaps with death at the stake."
Monsieur D'Estanges said no more. In spite of his relationship with the Guises he, like many other French Catholic nobles, disapproved of the persecutions of the Huguenots, and especially of the massacres perpetrated by the lower orders in the towns, men for whom he had the profoundest contempt. He felt sorry for his companion, whose youth and fearless demeanour moved him in his favour; and who, he doubted not, had come to Agen to confer with some of the Huguenots, who were to be found in every town.
Issuing from the gates, they went for a quarter of a mile along the road, and then Raoul led the way into a small wood. Here, without a word being spoken, Raoul and Philip threw aside their cloaks and doublets.
"Gentlemen," Monsieur D'Estanges said, "surely this quarrel might be arranged without fighting. Monsieur de Fontaine addressed my principal, doubtless under a misapprehension, with some roughness, which was not unnaturally resented. If Monsieur de Fontaine will express his regret, which he certainly could do without loss of dignity, for the manner in which he spoke; my principal would, I am sure, gladly accept his apology."
"That is my opinion also," Louis de Fontaine said, "and I have already expressed it to my cousin."
"And I have already said that I will do nothing of the sort," Raoul said. "I am fighting not only in my own quarrel, but in that of the king; being well assured in my mind that this young man, whether he be, as he now appears, a gentleman of birth, or whether, as I saw him last, a peasant boy, is engaged in some plot hostile to his majesty."
"Then there is nothing more to be said," Monsieur D'Estanges said gravely; "but before you begin, I may tell you, Monsieur de Fontaine, that this gentleman belongs to a family no less noble than your own. He has confided to me his name and position, which I think it as well not to divulge.
"Now, Louis, we may as well stand aside. We have done our best to stop this quarrel, and to prevent what I cannot but consider a most unequal contest from taking place."
The last words were galling, in the extreme, to Raoul de Fontaine. Monsieur D'Estanges stood high at court, was a gentleman of unblemished reputation, and often appealed to on questions of honour; and this declaration that he considered the combat to be an unequal one was the more irritating, since he was himself conscious of the fact. However, he could not recoil now but, with an angry expression of face, drew his sword and stood on guard.
Philip was no less ready. The easy attitude he assumed, with his weight for the most part on his left leg, differed so widely from the forward attitude then in fashion among French duellists, that Monsieur D'Estanges, convinced that he knew nothing of swordplay, shrugged his shoulders pityingly. The moment, however, that the swords grated against each other; and Philip put aside, with a sharp turn of the wrist, a lunge with which his opponent intended at once to finish the combat, the expression of his face changed.
"The lad did not speak boastfully, when he said he was a fair swordsman," he muttered to himself. "He does not fight in our fashion, but at least he knows what he is about."
For some minutes the fight continued, Raoul's temper rising higher and higher, as he found every attack baffled by a foe he had despised, and who refused to fall back even an inch, however hotly he pressed him. He had at first intended either to wound or disarm him, but he soon fought to kill. At last there was a fierce rally, ending by Philip parrying a home thrust and, returning it with lightning swiftness, running Raoul de Fontaine through the body with such force that the hilt of his sword struck against his chest, and he sank lifeless to the ground.
"By our Lady, young gentleman," Monsieur D'Estanges exclaimed, "but you have done well! You said that you were a fair swordsman. Truly you are of the highest class. Raoul's temper has led him into many a duel, and he has always wounded or killed his man. Who could have thought that he would receive his death blow at the hands of a youth?
"But whom have we here? Peste! This is awkward."
As he spoke, Count Darbois, the governor of Agen, with a body of troopers, rode up. He had ridden to within a mile or two of Nerac and, questioning persons from the town, learned that everything was quiet there, and that no fresh body of Huguenots had arrived. He was on his way back when, hearing the clash of swords, he had ridden into the wood to inquire into its meaning.
"What is this?" he exclaimed.
"Why, what is this, Monsieur De Fontaine? Your cousin, Count Raoul, dead!"
Louis, who was leaning over his cousin, looked up.
"Alas! I fear that it is so, Monsieur le Comte. My poor cousin has fallen in a duel."
"What a misfortune, and at such a moment! Is it not scandalous that, at a time like this, when every gentleman's sword is needed in defence of our king and faith, they should indulge in private quarrels?
"And is it you, Monsieur D'Estanges, who has done his majesty this bad service?"
For by this time Philip had resumed his doublet and cloak.
"No. I only stood as second to his opponent, who has behaved fairly and honourably in the matter, as I am sure Count Louis will testify."
"Your word is quite sufficient, Monsieur D'Estanges. And who is this gentleman, who has thus slain one who had no mean reputation as a swordsman?"
"A young gentleman passing through Agen. The quarrel arose through a rencontre in the street. Count Raoul was, as was his nature, hasty, and put himself in the wrong. The gentleman resented his language, and a meeting was at once arranged. Count Louis and myself were with Raoul, and as his opponent was alone, and it was not desirable to draw others into the matter, I offered to act as his second; and he accepted it, at once. We came here. Count Louis and I made a final effort to persuade Raoul to apologize for his language. He refused to do so, and they fought, and you see the consequence."
"But who is this stranger?" the governor asked again.
"Count Raoul did not feel it necessary to ask, count; and I think, as he waived the point, and the affair is now terminated, it would be well that his opponent should be permitted to withdraw without questions."
"That is all very well for you, Monsieur D'Estanges, as a party in a private quarrel; but as governor of Agen, it is my duty to satisfy myself as to who this stranger, who has killed an officer of the king, may be."
He turned his horse, and for the first time obtained a view of Philip; who, seeing the impossibility of escape, had been standing quietly by.
"Why, it is but a youth!" he exclaimed. "You say he slew Count Raoul in fair fight, Monsieur D'Estanges?"
"In as fair a fight as ever I saw, Monsieur le Comte."
"Who are you, sir?" the governor asked Philip.
"I am a stranger, travelling through Agen on private business," Philip said quietly.
"But what is your name and family, sir?"
"I am English," Philip replied. "My name is Philip Fletcher."
"A Huguenot, I will be bound?" the governor said angrily.
"Not at all, count. I am of the religion of my nation--a Protestant."
"It is the same thing," the governor said. "It is clear that, for whatever purpose you may be in Agen, you are here for no good.
"This is a serious matter, Monsieur D'Estanges."
"As I have said, I know nothing of this gentleman, count. I saw him for the first time a little over half an hour ago, and on every account I wish that I had not seen him. He has killed my friend Raoul, deprived his majesty of a staunch adherent, and has got himself into trouble. But for all that, I am assured, by his conduct and bearing in this business, that he is an honourable gentleman; and I intreat you, as a personal favour, count, that you allow him to go free."
"I would do much to oblige you, Monsieur D'Estanges; but he is an Englishman and a Protestant, by his own confession, and therefore can only be here to aid the men who have risen in rebellion, and to conspire with the king's enemies. He will be placed in close charge and, when the present pressing affairs have been put out of hand, I doubt not we shall find means of learning a good deal more about this mysterious person, who claims to be English, but who yet speaks our language like a Frenchman."
"As to that matter, I can satisfy you at once," Philip said. "My mother was a French lady, a daughter of the Count de Moulins of Poitou."
"A Huguenot family, if I mistake not," the governor said, coldly. "Well, we have other things to think of, now.
"Captain Carton, place two troopers one on each side of this person. I authorize you to cut him down, if he tries to escape. Let four others dismount, and carry the body of the Count de Fontaine into the city.
"You will, of course, take the command of his troop, Count Louis; seeing that, if I mistake not, you are his nearest relative, and the heir to his possessions."
As Philip was led through the streets he caught sight of Pierre, who made no sign of recognition as he passed. He was taken to the castle, and confined in a room in a turret, looking down upon the river. The window was closely barred, but otherwise the room, though small, was not uncomfortable. It contained a chair, a table, and a couch.
Philip in prison
When the door was barred and bolted behind him, Philip walked to the window and stood looking out at the river. The prospect seemed dark. The governor was unfavourably disposed towards him now; and when the news came, on the morrow, that the Queen of Navarre had slipped through his fingers, his exasperation would no doubt be vented on him. What was now but a mere suspicion, would then become almost a certainty; and it would, as a matter of course, be assumed that he was there on matters connected with her flight. That he was a Protestant was alone sufficient to condemn him to death, but his connection with the queen's flight would, beyond all question, seal his fate.
Pierre, he felt sure, would do all that he could for him; but that could amount to almost nothing. Even if he had the means of filing through or removing the bars, it would need a long stout rope to enable him to descend to the water's edge, a hundred feet below him; and that he could obtain possession of either file, or rope, seemed to him as absolutely impossible.
"Nevertheless," he said to himself, "I will let Pierre know where I am confined. I do not see that it can do any good. But he is a fellow of resource. I have great faith in him and, though I can see no possible plan of escape, he, being without, may try something.
"I have no doubt that his first endeavour will be to find out where I am confined. I warrant he will know my cap, if he sees it. He has an eye like a hawk and, if he sees anything outside one of the windows, he will suspect at once that it is a signal; and when he once looks closely at it, he will make out its orange tint and these three long cock's feathers."
So saying, he thrust one of his arms through the bars with the cap, which he allowed to hang down against the wall below. There he stood for two hours, closely examining every boat that came along. At last he saw one rowed by two men, with a third sitting in the stern; and had no difficulty in making out, as it came closer, that this was Pierre, who was gazing at the castle.
Presently he saw him suddenly clap his hands, and speak to the rowers. These did not look up, but continued to row on in the same leisurely way as before; nor did Pierre again glance at the castle.
Satisfied that his signal had been observed, Philip withdrew it, but continued to watch the boat. It went half a mile higher up, then turned and floated quietly down the stream again. When he had seen it pass the bridge, he threw himself down on the couch.
"There is nothing more for me to do," he said. "The matter is in Pierre's hands, now."
He listened for a time to the tramp of a sentry, backwards and forwards outside his door; and then fell off to sleep, from which he did not awake until he heard the bars withdrawn, and the key turned in the lock. Then a man accompanied by two soldiers entered, and placed a chicken, a bottle of wine, and a loaf of bread on the table.
"Monsieur D'Estanges sends this, with his compliments," he said; and then Philip was again left alone.
Two hours after it became dark he thought he heard a confused sound, as of the trampling of a number of horsemen in the courtyard of the castle. He went to the door and, placing his ear against it, was convinced that he was not mistaken.
"That looks as if an expedition were about to start somewhere," he said. "If they are bound for Nerac, they will arrive there too late; for the queen will, by this time, be setting out. They cannot intend to scale the walls tonight, and the gates will have been shut long ago. They are probably going into ambush, somewhere near, so as to ride in in the morning.
"I wish I could be certain they are bound in that direction. There was certainly no idea of an expedition this morning, but it is possible that the messenger with the order for the arrest of the queen and prince may have arrived this afternoon, and the governor is losing no time.
"I trust it is so, and not that news has come, from some spy at Nerac, that she will leave the place tonight. If it is so, this party may be setting out to strengthen the guards on the river; or to occupy the roads by which she would travel, were her purpose to join the seneschal.
"I trust that Pierre and the others are on the alert, and not wasting their time in thinking about me; and that, if this troop make along the river, they will ride to warn the queen in time. Hearing nothing, she will assume that the road is clear, and that she can go on fearlessly.
"It is enough to drive one mad, being cooped up here when the whole success of the cause is at stake."
The character of the sentry's walk had changed. He had been relieved some four hours before, and his walk at times ceased, as if he were leaning against the wall to rest himself, while at times he gave an impatient stamp with his feet.
"I expect they have forgotten to relieve him," Philip said to himself. "If a strong body has gone out, that might very well be."
Another half hour passed, and then he heard steps ascending the stone staircase, and the sentry exclaimed angrily:
"Sapristie, comrade, I began to think I was going to be kept all night at my post, and that everyone had ridden out with that party that started, half an hour ago.
"Now, then, the orders are: 'Permit no one to approach. Refuse even to allow officers to visit the prisoner, without a special order of the governor.' That is all.
"Now I am off for a tankard of spiced wine, which I think I have earned well, for it is a good hour after my time of relief."
Then Philip heard his footsteps descending the stairs, while the man who had relieved him walked briskly up and down in front of the door. In a minute or two he stopped, then Philip turned with a start from the window at which he was standing, as he heard through the keyhole a loud whisper:
"Monsieur Philip, are you asleep? It is I!"
"Why, Pierre!" he exclaimed, running to the door and putting his mouth to the keyhole; "how did you come here?"
"I will tell you that later, master. The thing is now to get you out. The bolts here are easy enough to draw, but this lock puzzles me. I have brought up two thin saws and an auger, and thought to cut round it; but there is a plate of iron outside."
"And there is one inside too, Pierre. How about the hinges, Pierre?"
"There is no doing anything with them, master. The ironwork goes right across the door. There is nothing for it, but to cut right round the iron plate."
"That won't take very long, if the saws are good, Pierre."
Philip heard a rasping sound and, in a short time, the auger passed through the woodwork. Two other holes adjoining the first were soon made, and then the end of a saw was pushed through.
"If you can make a hole large enough at the bottom of the plate, Pierre, and pass me the other saw through, I can work that way to meet you."
"It would take too long to make, sir. I have plenty of oil, and it won't take me long to saw round the plate. I only brought the second saw in case the first should break. But this oak is pretty nearly as hard as iron."
It took over an hour's work before the cut was complete. When it was nearly finished, Pierre said:
"Be ready to seize the piece that is cut out, as soon as I am through with it, master; otherwise it may fall down, as the door opens, and make a clatter that will be heard all over the castle."
As the last piece was sawn through Philip pressed the door and, as it opened, seized the portion cut out, drew it backward, and laid it gently on the stone floor. Then he rose, and grasped Pierre's hand.
"My brave Pierre, you have accomplished what I thought was an impossibility. Now, what is the next thing to be done?" "The next thing is to unwind this rope from my body. It is lucky I am so lean that it did not make me look bulky. It is not very thick, but it is new and strong, and there are knots every two feet. Roger is waiting for us below, in a boat."
"Where is Jacques?"
"Jacques has ridden off. He learned, before sunset, that orders had been issued for the troops to assemble. He and Roger had taken the four horses beyond the walls, an hour after you were arrested; and had left them at a farmer's, a mile away. So he arranged with me that he should follow the troop on foot; which he could do, as there are footmen as well as horse in the party that has gone out. Then, as soon as he discovered which way they were going, he would slip off and make for the farmhouse and mount. If they were bound for Nerac, he will wait for us at the point on the other side of the river. If they follow the river down, he will ride at full speed, make a circuit, and warn the queen of the danger. He will have plenty of time to do that, as the column will have to move at the pace of the infantry."
"That is a load off my mind, Pierre."
While they were speaking they had unwound the rope, fastened one end to the battlement, and lowered the other down.
"I will go first, master. I am the lightest, and will steady the rope for you, from below."
In two or three minutes Philip felt that the rope was no longer tight, and at once swung himself over and lowered himself down. The water washed the foot of the wall, and he stepped directly into the boat; which Roger was keeping in its place with a pole, while Pierre held the rope. An exclamation of thankfulness broke from the two men, as his feet touched the gunwale of the boat; and then, without a word, Roger began to pole the boat along against the tide, keeping close to the foot of the wall.
Once fairly beyond the castle, the pole was laid in and the two men took the oars, and the boat shot across the river. Then they rowed up under the opposite bank, until a voice from above them said:
"Is all well--is Monsieur Philip with you?"
"All is well, Jacques," Philip exclaimed, delighted; for the fact that his follower was there showed that the troops had gone in the direction that did not threaten the safety of the queen.
They leapt ashore and pushed the boat off, to allow it to float down with the stream.
It was a mile to the spot where the horses had been left. On the way, Philip heard how his escape had been effected.
"I saw you go out from the town, monsieur; and could not, for the life of me, make out what was going to happen. I did not know the gentleman you were walking with, but I recognized the two in front of you as the officers of the troop that had questioned us, near Bazas. One of them was talking angrily to the other. As it seemed to me that you were going willingly, and not as a prisoner; and especially as you were going out of the town, I thought that it was my business to wait until you returned.
"I saw, half an hour, later some horsemen coming up the street, and someone said that it was the governor, who had been out with a party. It gave me a bad turn, when I saw you walking as a prisoner in the middle of them. I saw you glance at me, but of course made no sign; and I followed until you entered the castle.
"When I was walking away, I saw a crowd. Pushing forward, I found they were surrounding four soldiers who were carrying a body on their shoulders, and made out at once it was the officer who had been talking so angrily to his companion. Then I understood what had puzzled me before, and what you had gone outside the walls for.
"The rest was easy to guess. The governor had come along, you had been questioned, and had been arrested as a Huguenot. It was evident that no time was to be lost and that, if you were to be got out, it must be done quickly.
"I hurried away to the cabaret where Jacques and Roger were drinking. We talked the matter over, and agreed that the first thing was to get the four horses out of the town. So I went to the inn where you had put up, said I was your servant, paid the reckoning, and took away the horse. Then I got my own and joined the other two, who were mounted and ready. They each took a horse and rode off, settling to leave them at some farmhouse a short distance away, explaining there that the town was so full they could find no room for them.
"Directly they had started, I set off to have a look round the castle. The great thing was to know where they had lodged you. If it was in a cell looking outward, I thought that, knowing I should be searching for you, you would make a signal. If I could see nothing, I determined to accost some servant coming out from the castle; to make acquaintance with him and, over a bottle of wine, to find out in what part of the castle you were lodged.
"On the land side I could see nothing, and then went back and waited till Jacques and Roger returned. Then we took a boat and, as you know, rowed up; and I soon made out your cap outside the wall.
"Then, as we rowed back, we arranged matters. Jacques was to carry out your former orders: find out about the movement of troops, and warn the queen if danger threatened. Roger was to be at the foot of the wall with a boat, as soon as it became dark. I was to undertake to get you out.
"The first thing to do was to get a rope. This I carried to a quiet place on the wall, knotted it, and put it round me under my doublet. Then there was nothing to do but to wait. I went several times to hear if Jacques had any news, and was glad when he told me that most of the troops were ordered to be under arms, at eight o'clock. This would make matters simpler for me for, with numbers of people going in and coming out of the castle, it would be easy to slip in unnoticed.
"As soon as it was dark, Jacques and I went down a lane; and he gave me his steel cap and breast piece, and took my cap in exchange. Then I went up towards the castle. The gates were open, and I was told that they would not be closed until midnight; as so many were coming out and going in, and there was no hostile force anywhere in these parts. Presently, numbers of gentlemen began to arrive with their retainers, and I soon went in with a party of footmen.
"The courtyard was full of men, and I was not long before I found the staircase leading up to the top of the wall, on the river side. I went boldly up and, halfway, found a door partly open. Looking in, I saw that it was evidently used by some gentlemen who had gone down, in haste, to join the party below; so I shut the door and waited. I heard the troops start and guessed, from the quiet that followed, that the greater portion of the garrison had left.
"I felt pretty sure that there would be a sentry at your door, and waited until the time I thought he would be expecting a relief. Then I went up. He was in a mighty hurry to get down, and did not stop to see who I was, or to ask any questions; which was well for him, for I had my knife in my hand, and should have stabbed him before he could utter a cry. Everything went off well, and you know the rest, sir."
"You managed wonderfully, Pierre. I thought over every plan by which you might aid me to escape, but I never thought of anything so simple as this. Nor, indeed, did I see any possible way of your freeing me.
"How are we going to get our horses? The farmer will think that we are a party of thieves."
"They are in an open shed," Jacques said. "I told the farmer that our reason for bringing them out of the town was that you might have to start with orders, any time in the night; and that it would be troublesome getting them out from town stables, and having the gates opened for them to pass out; while, on foot, you could issue from the postern without trouble. I paid him for the corn when I left them."
The horses, indeed, were got out without any stir in the house indicating that its occupants were awakened.
"Give me your sword, Pierre," Philip said, as he mounted. "I trust that we shall meet with no enemies on the road; still we may do so, and I should not like to be unarmed. You have your arquebus."
This had been brought in the boat by Roger, and on landing Pierre had exchanged the steel cap and breast piece for his own cap.
The road to Villeneuve D'Agenois was a cross-country one, and would be impossible to follow in the dark. Consequently, after keeping on the main road for half an hour, they turned off a road to the right, rode until they came to a wood, and there alighted.
"Shall I light a fire, sir?" Pierre asked.
"It is not worth while, Pierre. It must be getting on for midnight now, and we must be in the saddle again, at daybreak. By this time they have, no doubt, found that I have escaped. The first time they send up a man to relieve you, the open door will be noticed. They will certainly make no search tonight, and tomorrow they will have something else to think about; for doubtless some spy at Nerac will, as soon as the gates are open, take the news to the governor's party that the queen has left."
Two hours' brisk ride, in the morning, took them within sight of Villeneuve D'Agenois. Riding across the bridge over the river Lot, he entered the town. The street was full of troops; and three gentlemen, standing at the door of an inn, looked with suspicion on the gay colouring of Philip's costume and, as he alighted, they stepped forward to accost him.
"May I ask who you are, sir?" one said advancing; "and what is your business here?"
"Certainly you may," Philip said, as he dismounted. "My name is Philip Fletcher. I am here at the order of her majesty, the Queen of Navarre; who, I trust, has arrived here safely."
"The queen arrived here three hours since, Monsieur Fletcher; and I may say that she did you the honour to inquire, at once, if a gentleman of your name had arrived."
"I should have met her at the river near Tonneins, but the governor of Agen laid an embargo on me. Yet, thanks to these three faithful fellows, I got safely out of his clutches."
"We shall march in an hour, Monsieur Fletcher and, as soon as the queen is up, I will see that she is acquainted with your coming.
"Allow me to introduce myself, first--Gaston de Rebers. Breakfast is ready in this cottage, and we were about to sit down when we saw you riding up. I shall be glad if you will share it with us. These are my comrades, Messieurs Duvivier, Harcourt, and Parolles."
He then called a sergeant.
"Sergeant, see that Monsieur Fletcher's servant and men-at-arms have a good meal."
"I think they must want it," Philip said. "They have been so busy, in my service, that I doubt if they have eaten since breakfast yesterday. I myself supped well, thanks to the courtesy of Monsieur D'Estanges, who was good enough to send up an excellent capon, and a bottle of wine to my cell."
"You know Monsieur D'Estanges?" Gaston de Rebers asked courteously. "He is a gentleman of high repute and, though connected with the Guises, he is said to be opposed to them in their crusade against us."
"I had only the honour of meeting him yesterday," Philip said, as they sat down to table; "but he behaved like a true gentleman, and did me the honour of being my second, in an unfortunate affair into which I was forced."
"Who was your opponent, may I ask, sir?"
"Count Raoul de Fontaine."
"A doughty swordsman!" Gaston de Rebers exclaimed; "but one of our bitterest opponents in this province. You are fortunate, indeed, to have escaped without a serious wound; for he has been engaged in many duels, and but few of his opponents have escaped with their lives."
"He will neither persecute you, nor fight more duels," Philip said quietly; "for I had the misfortune to kill him."
The others looked at him with astonishment.
"Do I understand rightly, Monsieur Fletcher, that you have slain Raoul de Fontaine in a duel?"
"That is the case," Philip replied. "Monsieur D'Estanges, as I have said, acted as my second. Count Louis de Fontaine acted for his cousin."
"You will pardon my having asked you the question again," De Rebers said; "but really, it seemed well-nigh impossible that a gentleman who, as I take it, can yet be scarcely of age, should have slain Raoul de Fontaine."
"I lack four years, yet, of being of age," Philip said; "for it will be another month before I am seventeen. But I have had good teachers, both English and French; and our games and exercises, at school, naturally bring us forward, in point of strength and stature, in comparison with your countrymen of the same age. Still, doubtless, it was as much due to good fortune as to skill that I gained my success.
"I assuredly had no desire to kill him; the less so because, to a certain extent, the duel was of my making. There was, as it seemed to me, no choice between fighting him, and being denounced by him as a spy. Therefore when he accosted me roughly, I took the matter up hotly, and there was nothing for it but an encounter. As I have said, I meant only to wound him; but his skill and his impetuosity were so great that I was forced, in self defence, to run him through.
"After all, I gained nothing by the duel; for the governor, with a troop of horse, came up just as it concluded, and as I could give no satisfactory account of myself, I was hauled off a prisoner to the castle."
"And how did you escape thence?" Gaston asked.
Philip gave an account of the manner in which his servant had rescued him.
"Parbleu! You are fortunate in your servant! Would that so shrewd a knave--
"But there, the trumpets are sounding. I will take you at once to the queen, who is doubtless ready to mount."